What Happen or What Happened – Which Is Correct?

If you have a friend who comes around with a long, sad face, which of these will you say? “What happen” or “what happened”? Which of these is correct and why? This article will elaborate more on the correct phrase, and provide useful examples.

What Happen or What Happened – Which Is Correct?

The correct phrase is “what happened”. It is grammatically wrong to say “what happen”. When you want to ask about an event or an occurrence that happened in the past, you say, “what happened”. The phrase “what happened” is a complete question.

what happen or what happened

According to Cambridge Dictionary, the word “Happen” is a verb that means “a situation or an event to have existence or come into existence”.

The word “happen” is an intransitive verb. All verbs are classified into either transitive or intransitive verbs. Transitive verbs are verbs that have a direct object which receives the action that the verb describes. Such as; Sharon rides a horse.

Here, the horse is the object of the verb “rides,” and it can also be inverted passively which is expected of a transitive verb. That is, it can be expressed as:

  • The horse was ridden by Sharon.

However, intransitive verbs are the opposite. They have no direct object, or meaning. The action they describe remains with the subject and other parts of speech may follow, such as: an adverb or a prepositional phrase, but not an object indicating who or what received the action.

For example:

  • Mary sings beautifully.

However, an intransitive verb cannot be inverted because it only has an active voice. For example;

Beautifully sings Mary (incorrect)

Likewise, “happen” is an intransitive verb when used by itself, because it doesn’t have a direct object to receive the action. This can be seen in the following examples;

The riot happened suddenly.

Note: it also cannot be inverted into a passive sentence.

What Happen

“What happen” is grammatically incorrect. You can say “what will happen, what is happening or what happened”? “What happen” can’t be used independently but has to be conjugated with other words to give it a relevant meaning. It is grammatically wrong for you to use the phrase in a sentence.

The words that can be used for conjugation are; if, did, etc.

Here are some examples of how to use conjugation with the phrase to give it meaning.

  1. Correct: What did happen was, Tom left her assignment at home, that was why he was punished.
  2. Incorrect: What happen was, Tom left her assignment at home, that was why he was punished.
  3. Correct: You should have spoken to her politely, what if it happens to you.
  4. Incorrect: You should have spoken to her politely, what happens to you.
  5. Correct: What will happen if you don’t pay your rent by month end?
  6. Incorrect: What happen if you don’t pay your rent by month end?

What Happened

“What Happened” is a complete statement used to make enquiries on an event that happened in the past. It involves asking about the past. It is a subject question because ‘what’ is the subject of the verb “happened” which doesn’t take auxiliary verbs and yet, retain its correctness and meaning. 

The verb “happened” can be used whenever there is a past tense to be made.

Here are examples of sentences to illustrate the usage of “what happened?”

  1. Guess what happened at the cinema today?
  2. What happened to your car?
  3. Listen up, everyone, what happened yesterday must not repeat itself.
  4. What happened at the party is none of my business.
  5. How did you know what happened between Jack and Rose?
  6. What happened to the warehouse? All the goods are gone!
  7. Nobody remembered what happened in the last election.

Final Thoughts

It is absolutely wrong to say “what happen” in a conversation or a sentence. To make meaning of that phrase, you need to add a conjugate like “if”, “did”, etc. to it. Instead of “what happen” you should say “what happened”. You can also say, “what will happen if…”